The pleasures of black-and-white cinematography are on full display in Ken Hughes’ The Small World of Sammy Lee; shot on the streets of Soho and the East End by the great Wolfgang Suschitzky, this story of a small-time entertainer and compulsive gambler desperately trying to raise cash to pay off a gangster is a finely observed depiction of the seedier side of pre-Swinging London, shot through with bleak humour and the tentative possibility of redemption.
2016 was an impressive year for movies on disk, with a wide variety of new and classic releases, prestige productions and exploitation, and some interesting rediscoveries … too many to pick just a handful of “bests”.
Sometimes sharing a favourite movie doesn’t produce the reaction we expect; it can be puzzling, even a little painful to discover that a friend doesn’t always like the same things we do.
Two new BFI releases, Peter Hall’s Akenfield (1974) and Andrew Grieve’s On the Black Hill (1988), view the 20th Century through the relationships of people in rural Britain to the land, evoking physical hardship and timeless mystical connections.
Two excellent recent Blu-ray releases from the BFI illuminate the extremes of high and low art in British film of the early 1970s. Ken Russell’s version of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love is exemplary literary adaptation, while Don Sharp’s Psychomania is … well, something else again!
It’s remarkable that it’s still possible to discover a previously unknown yet major film from the silent era, but the BFI’s new release of Anthony Asquith’s first feature, Shooting Stars (1928) is a revelation; a fresh, self-aware film about filmmaking and the intersection of real and imaginary lives.
Network’s The British Film collection unearths two interesting titles from the ’60s, Michael Winner’s excellent West 11 and Christopher Morahan’s strange anti-comedy All Neat In Black Stockings, in decent quality DVD editions.
Britain’s Network are releasing a lot of previously hard to find movies on disk. Two new Blu-rays, Peter Yates’ Robbery and Val Guest’s 80,000 Suspects, resurrect a couple of interesting titles from the ’60s.
Although I saw fewer movies in theatres than ever, this year offered a rich array of films on disk, belying continuing prophecies of the medium’s demise in the face of on-line streaming.
Arrow Video has become my favourite source for high quality releases of both serious films and exploitation titles. Their special editions rank with the best offered by prestige companies like Criterion and Masters of Cinema.